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Is Prompt Engineering Really Prompt "Engineering"?

Mastering the Art of Prompt Crafting by Using Rhetoric: Perfecting Your AI's Generative Responses For Teachers

 

On one of our routine hikes up Hong Kong Peak, my dear and brilliant friend, Haihao from Ternity Education and I entered into a conversation about the concept of prompt engineering as not really being prompt "engineering".

 

The term "prompt engineering" might be somewhat of a misnomer. In traditional engineering disciplines, practitioners apply principles from the sciences and mathematics to design and build structures or machinery. However, in the realm of human-AI interaction, "prompt engineering" diverges from this definition; it's less about the application of rigid scientific formulae and more about the artful crafting of language and refining your prompts through a conversation with any GenAI tool. It involves composing the right prompts to guide GenAI tools toward desired outcomes and refining these prompts through an iterative process. The iterative development of crafting AI prompts can be likened to a chef perfecting a recipe I suppose (as a food lover)—each tweak to the ingredients or cooking technique builds upon the taste tests that came before, aiming for a more refined and satisfying flavour profile. My mother has an amazing ability to rely on her understanding of flavours and textures to create delicious dishes, and therefore prompt development relies on an understanding of dialogue flow and context to create prompts that produce the most coherent and effective AI responses.

 

Design Thinking and Developing Prompts


It is my belief that the development of prompts for any AI tool use aligns closely with the principles of design thinking, from Stanford's d.School, a methodology traditionally used in product design and user experience but is equally applicable here. Design thinking advocates for a user-centered approach to problem-solving, where understanding the user's needs is paramount. This parallels the process of crafting AI prompts, which requires empathy for the end user's perspective to anticipate how they might interact with the AI and the types of responses they seek. The iterative nature of prompt development reflects design thinking's emphasis on prototyping and testing—a loop of creation, evaluation, and refinement. Just as design thinking involves redefining problems and exploring alternative strategies, effective prompt engineering requires flexibility and a willingness to pivot, ensuring that prompts evolve to better communicate the user's intent to the AI, thereby creating more meaningful and contextually appropriate interactions.

 

Developing Prompts Using the Five Canons of Rhetoric


Despite experimenting with numerous existing frameworks and various tools designed for developing prompts, none have stuck with me for one reason or another. During our conversation, Haihao introduced me to a blog post by Lance Cummings, which explained the application of the rhetorical triangle in enhancing prompt construction. Inspired by this, I've integrated these concepts and explored the five canons of rhetoric, endeavouring to devise a more intuitive and impactful approach to prompt development that reflects the iterative and refinement process when developing prompt for AI.

 

The five canons or tenets of rhetoric, as articulated by the Roman orator Cicero, are Inventio (Invention), Dispositio (Arrangement), Elocutio (Style), Memoria (Memory), and Pronuntiatio and Actio (Presentation and Delivery). Originally these tenets were created to focus on public speaking and the iterative nature of writing that incorporates the stages of drafting, writing, and rewriting as a cyclical process.


From Wikipedia:

 

"Rhetorical education focused on five canons. The Five Canons of Rhetoric serve as a guide to creating persuasive messages and arguments:

  • inventio (invention) the process that leads to the development and refinement of an argument.

  • dispositio (disposition, or arrangement) used to determine how an argument should be organized for greatest effect, usually beginning with the exordium

  • elocutio (style) determining how to present the arguments

  • memoria (memory) the process of learning and memorizing the speech and persuasive messages

  • pronuntiatio (presentation) and actio (delivery) the gestures, pronunciation, tone, and pace used when presenting the persuasive arguments—the Grand Style

 

Based on this idea (literally), I have created an acronym that may help with AI prompt development that operates in two stages to reflect the iterative refinement nature of crafting prompts. The initial steps of input involve inquiring, designing, and engaging. Once a response is received, the next phase is to adapt and synthesize.



 

Inquire, Design, Engage, Adapt, Specify I.D.E.A.S.

 

Phase 1 Inquire, Design, Engage, (IDE)

 

- Inquiry (Inventio): Inquiry aligns closely with Inventio, as it involves the initial stage of questioning and exploring to develop the content and purpose of the prompt.

 

- Design (Dispositio):Design mirrors Dispositio, organizing the content into a coherent structure that will guide the AI in producing a structured and impactful response.

 

- Engage (Elocutio):Engage corresponds to Elocutio, focusing on the style and presentation of the prompt to ensure that it is engaging and effective in its language and tone.

 

Example using this framework:

Inquire

Can you come up with an interactive 5th-grade lesson plan on fractions focusing on equivalent fractions, addition, and comparison? Any ideas for engaging, inquiry-based activities?"

 

Design

Draft a lesson with an engaging intro to fractions, a hands-on activity for exploring equivalency, and a practical application for adding and comparing fractions.

 

Engage

Create a lively lesson plan that makes fractions relatable and exciting for 10-year-olds, prompting curiosity and interaction in the classroom.

 

ChatGPT 4 response:

 

Inquire (Response):

"Absolutely, I can assist with that. For an interactive lesson plan on fractions for 5th graders, we could explore the concepts of equivalent fractions, addition, and comparison through a series of real-life scenarios and manipulatives that encourage students to ask questions and think critically."

 

Design (Response):

Here's a structured lesson outline:

1. Introduction: Begin with a short story that involves sharing a pizza or a chocolate bar, to introduce the concept of fractions in a relatable context.

2. Hands-On Activity: Use fraction circles or strips to visually and tactilely explore equivalent fractions, allowing students to manipulate pieces to see how different fractions can represent the same portion of a whole.

3. Practical Application: Transition to a group activity where students use real-world examples, like recipes or money, to add and compare fractions, solidifying their understanding with tangible examples."

 

Engage (Response):

The lesson plan will be crafted to engage 10-year-olds by incorporating elements of play and discovery. For instance, students could create their own 'Fraction Museum' where they display and explain examples of equivalent fractions using creative visuals. To conclude, a 'Fraction Scavenger Hunt' around the classroom could be organized, where each student solves fraction addition and comparison problems, reinforcing the day's lessons with energetic participation.

 

Phase 2 Adapt and Synthesize (A.S.)

 

- Adapt (Inventio + Memoria): Adapt incorporates elements of Inventio, as the process of adaptation often requires revisiting and refining the original content of the prompt—essentially re-inventing it to better suit the needs identified through feedback and results. It also draws from Memoria, as it involves keeping track of what modifications have been made and how they have impacted the AI's responses.

 

- Synthesize (Pronuntiatio and Actio): Synthesize encapsulates Pronuntiatio and Actio, ensuring that all elements of the new prompt come together in a cohesive manner based on the previous outputs from AI.


Example for Phase 2

ChatGPT response from Phase 1

Inquire (Response):

"Absolutely, I can assist with that. For an interactive lesson plan on fractions for 5th graders, we could explore the concepts of equivalent fractions, addition, and comparison through a series of real-life scenarios and manipulatives that encourage students to ask questions and think critically."

 

Design (Response):

Here's a structured lesson outline:

1. Introduction: Begin with a short story that involves sharing a pizza or a chocolate bar, to introduce the concept of fractions in a relatable context.

2. Hands-On Activity: Use fraction circles or strips to visually and tactilely explore equivalent fractions, allowing students to manipulate pieces to see how different fractions can represent the same portion of a whole.

3. Practical Application: Transition to a group activity where students use real-world examples, like recipes or money, to add and compare fractions, solidifying their understanding with tangible examples."

 

Engage (Response):

The lesson plan will be crafted to engage 10-year-olds by incorporating elements of play and discovery. For instance, students could create their own 'Fraction Museum' where they display and explain examples of equivalent fractions using creative visuals. To conclude, a 'Fraction Scavenger Hunt' around the classroom could be organized, where each student solves fraction addition and comparison problems, reinforcing the day's lessons with energetic participation.

 

 

Adapt and Synthesize  

Can you give examples of how a fraction museum would work? I have 25 students so what would the instructions look like and how would I organize the activities?

 

ChatGPT4 response

Certainly! Here's how you could organize a "Fraction Museum" activity for your class of 25 students:

 

Fraction Museum Instructions:

 

Objective: To create a museum exhibit where each student or pair of students showcases an understanding of fractions through creative representation.

 

Materials:

- Construction paper or poster boards

- Markers, crayons, colored pencils

- Fraction circle pieces, fraction strips, or other manipulatives

- Glue and scissors

- Real-life objects (e.g., fruits cut into pieces, measuring cups, money)

- Index cards for exhibit descriptions

 

Setup:

1. Divide the students into pairs, resulting in about 12-13 exhibits. If there's an odd number, you can have one group of three.

2. Assign or let each pair choose a specific fraction or set of equivalent fractions to represent.

3. Provide materials for students to create their visuals and exhibits.

 

Activity Instructions for Students:

1. Create Your Exhibit: With your partner, use the materials provided to create a visual representation of your assigned fraction. This could be a drawing, a model, or a combination of both. You can use real-life objects, fraction manipulatives, or even craft your own pieces.

  

2. Write Your Exhibit Description: On an index card, write a brief explanation of your fraction. Include why it's equivalent to another fraction (if applicable) and where you might encounter this fraction in the real world.

 

3. Set Up Your Museum: Once your exhibit is ready, find a space in the classroom to display your work. Arrange your visuals attractively and place your written description where visitors can read it.

 

4. Gallery Walk: After all exhibits are set up, we will have a gallery walk. Each pair will take turns standing by their exhibit to explain their fractions to visiting "museum-goers" (their classmates) and then rotate to learn from others.

 

With 25 students, this activity promotes collaboration, creativity, and communication, while also solidifying their understanding of fractions in a memorable and interactive way. The Fraction Museum not only reinforces mathematical concepts but also integrates elements of art and public speaking, making for a well-rounded educational experience.

 

Teacher's Role During the Activity:

- Facilitate the selection of fractions for each pair to avoid duplicates.

- Monitor the progress, providing guidance and ensuring that students are on task.

- Help students brainstorm real-life applications of their fractions if they are struggling.

- Set clear time limits for each activity phase: creation, setup, and gallery walk.

 

Closure:

- Have a brief class discussion to reflect on what was learned. Ask students which exhibits they found most interesting or surprising and why.

- Optionally, create a "museum guide" handout with a list of all the exhibits and a map of their locations in the classroom for students to take home.

 

 

Employing the I.D.E.A.S. acronym as a guide can streamline the prompt crafting process, ensuring that your prompts are intentionally designed yet not burdensome to create, and are more apt to elicit valuable and intelligible replies from AI tools.

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